Japan travel report

I came up with the idea to write this report because I know many people who are interested in travelling to Japan and who are at the same time cosplayers or at least fans of anime and manga. So I’m writing this as a summary of things that might be good to know when you have never been to Japan before (or might not have any experience in travelling abroad). While some information is more general, other is especially interesting for otaku and cosplayers.

 

The first time I travelled to Japan was in 2013. Since then I’ve been there four times and had the opportunity to see Japan in four different seasons. While I’ve also visited Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Nikko and Nagoya, I usually spend most of my time in Tokyo, so I mostly refer to Japan’s new capital in my text.

I’d like to give you an insight of my experiences and tell you a bit about the country which I love enough to come back to every year. Please keep in mind that I can only tell you my own opinions and my report can’t tell you exactly how to plan your own vacation. I can only give you some basic tips but the rest depends a lot on what you expect, what you want, what you’re interested in and what kind of person and traveller you are.

Let’s start with the planning! (^o^)

I know some people use a travel agency to organize their vacations and let someone of the agency book their flight and the hotel as well as sometimes even a whole trip including sightseeing tours and such. This is not my thing so I can’t tell you anything about it. I like to organize everything on my own and I start doing so at least half a year in advance. Earlier if possible. If you plan to go during cherry blossom season (March-April) and especially to Kyoto, make sure to get a hotel as soon as possible, as prices can get ridiculously high and it’ll be hard to find anything last-minute. If you have a job, please don’t forget to ask for vacation in time and have it confirmed! (^.~)

Flight:

When it comes to the flight, I prefer direct flights because I’m a lazy person and don’t wanna go through the stress of getting off the plane in a foreign country and get onto the next one. It usually takes a lot longer and 11 hours (which is how long it approximately takes from Germany to Japan via direct flight) is really enough for me. Sometimes you can probably save some money if you don’t pick direct flights. As for me: Whenever I checked, the difference wasn’t more than 100-200 € and to be honest, that’s not enough for me to go through the extra effort. So far my airlines of choice are Lufthansa and ANA.

Check the luggage restrictions and maybe get a portable luggage scale which you can bring along to check if your luggage is too heavy. I think this is really useful because at home you might have a weighing scale, but at the place where you will stay, you might not have one if you don’t bring your own one. At Haneda airport departure hall there is a big one which is free to use, but do you really want to wait until the very last minute and then unpack / rearrange at the airport? Wouldn’t be my favourite thing to do. (^^)” But it’s good to know that they have this, just in case. At most airports you also have the possibility to store your luggage if necessary and usually it’s not that expensive.
Since I’m a bit paranoid about public transport problems, long queues and so on, I always try to be at the airport 3 hours before my flight goes. Even if I usually check-in online beforehand. I know many will say this is too much and 1-2 hours are completely fine. But I prefer being on the safe side and have minimum possibility of stress right from the start.

Stuff I always put into my hand luggage are: earplugs, sleep mask, nasal spray, chewing gum, cough drops, warm socks, a small extra pillow and my own headphones because the ones provided are usually too big for me. Most of the above mentioned stuff is self-explanatory. The air on the plane can get quite dry, that’s why nasal spray, gum and cough drops are helpful. The gum can also help against the pressure and annoying feeling you might get in your ears especially during the start. One tip about the headphones: Some airlines have this weird double headphone inputs, so if you use your private headphones with only one input cable, you will have sound on only one ear. To avoid the problem and still use my own ones, I bought a second pair of cheap headphones and use both at once. (^.~)
I don’t have many tips about how to make the 11 hours pass quickly. I can just tell you that I think it always passes a lot faster than expected. If you fly over night: sleep! SLEEP!!! Even if you can’t, you should at least try. (^^)” Try avoiding a jetlag at all costs. Jetlag sucks!

Apartments:

So far I’ve stayed mostly in apartments in Japan. Often, these are flats from (private) people like for example B&B. To find them I usually check the website www.homeaway.com. Tip: The prices are not always final. Sometimes it’s worth contacting an apartment owner to ask for an offer. Some might make a good offer if you stay longer or if it’s low season.

The biggest difference between a hotel and an apartment is obviously that in an apartment, you’ll have a kitchen. I really like that. I don’t spend my whole vacation with cooking, especially because in Japan sometimes it’s cheaper to go out to eat instead of buying ingredients to cook (we come to that later) but it’s useful to have a fridge, water- and rice cooker.

Another thing I like about apartments is that you’re usually surrounded by natives who live their daily lives just around you. I really like this atmosphere and since Japanese are usually such polite people, you probably don’t have to worry much about a rude neighbourhood. Staying in an apartment gives me more the feeling of “living in Japan” for some weeks instead of “being on vacation”. I often catch myself talking about “going home” in the evenings instead of saying “I’m going back to my hotel now”. This is a feeling which I treasure a lot! (^^)

One thing that could be a bit problematic about apartments is that you have to find a landlord who speaks English – unless you speak Japanese of course. This might actually kick some places out of the race. I wouldn’t want to rent a place of a person who I can’t understand because there are a lot of details that need to be discussed. If it’s a trustworthy apartment, you will get terms & conditions during booking. Details and rules (payment, cancellation policies, cleaning regulations, check-in / check-out times, waste separation, smoking, pets, children, noise…) are either given beforehand or at arrival. I usually met the landlord / landlady when I arrived at the apartment and got the keys so it’s really helpful if they can speak English and all these information are handed out in written form and English language.

All in all, apartments are always my accommodation of choice. Sadly it might be difficult to find a nice and clean AND affordable one if you travel alone. As two people or groups of three to five it’ll be easier and cheaper.

(Capsule) Hotels:

The classic accommodation is of course a hotel. I don’t have much experiences with “normal” hotels since I’ve only stayed in some for short trips to Nagoya or Kyoto. The hotels I’ve been to were all amazing, but then again not very cheap. (^^)” Nothing I’d pick for a longer vacation but only for a few days.

However, this year I’ve stayed at a quite unique hotel. You might have heard of this hotel type before: A capsule hotel! I used to think “Omg NOWAY!” but last year during my search of a place to stay as a single traveller, I found out more about capsule hotels and became interested more and more.

Nowadays capsule hotels are not only for men, not only for short business trips and they’re not all tiny and old. The more modern trend is also called “cabin hotel”. The capsules are bigger, so the word ‘capsule’ doesn’t really fit anymore. My cabin hotel had just opened last year and everything was brand new and clean. In my cabin I could almost stand so I guess the height is around 150-160 cm. The space to store the luggage was big enough for 3 big suitcases and I still had some additional space left. The shared bathroom and single shower cabins with lock were big and luxurious. I was so impressed! Bed sheets were changed every day (which they might not do in any hotel and defo not in an apartment), you get towels, a pajama, toothbrush and toothpaste and other bathroom amenities… Basically you wouldn’t have to bring anything except from your own clothes and you’d be perfectly fine. I was staying at my cabin hotel for around three weeks, which is quite a long time but there was really nothing I ever missed. Except from one thing:

Silence! This is probably not a surprise and of course I was prepared for people packing / unpacking at any hour of the day / night because it was often mentioned in the feedback comments on the booking website, so I brought earplugs (and found out that those are also offered for free in the hotel). This was no problem at all. What was a problem was the snoring. (^^)” Because earplugs don’t help against snoring.

The other negative thing I experienced was to be surrounded by so many tourists. As mentioned above, it’s one of the best things for me about apartments, to be surrounded by natives. I don’t see myself as a typical tourist and sadly many tourists seem to have the mentality of “Yay, nobody knows me here. I can do whatever I want! :D” Which is… wrong. (^^)” Many tourists didn’t care about the sign on the door to the sleeping room informing them to be quiet and not do phone calls in the sleeping room. They did: phone calls, chatting, even watching movies on their notebooks without headphones! I was really disappointed to see all this bad behaviour. (It went on to drinking parties in the lobby…) So this is one thing you have to keep in mind when staying at a hotel like this. Always know what kind of surroundings might await you and decide for yourself if you can deal with it or not. Personally everything about this hotel was 10/10 awesome except from the many tourists. If it was for a shorter time or if I couldn’t find a good single apartment, I’d probably choose this hotel again. At least I’d be mentally prepared and will know what will await me. XD

Homestay / Private accommodation:

If you have friends in Japan or you decide to do something like a work & travel or even student exchange, you might choose to stay at the private homes of either a person you know or a stranger.

I’ve never stayed at the private flat of a stranger but I’ve stayed at my friend’s place and her boyfriend’s (who I didn’t know beforehand if that counts). Depending on the circumstances and agreements, an advantage of a private stay might obviously be that you can save money. But no matter what, please don’t forget to bring at least a small omiyage to show that you’re grateful for the hospitality! (^,~)

I think staying at a private place can be very different depending on the people and relations. As for me it was a great experience and I was very happy I could visit my friend and see how they live and to spend time together. Still, we decided beforehand that 10 days are enough because you have to keep in mind that most Japanese flats are not big and you never know how quickly you will get a cabin fever. (^^)” In my case it couldn’t have turned out any better, because we got along perfectly fine.

But still, similar to when having a travel partner, you always have to consider that you’re not alone and have to adjust to needs and  habits of the people around you. Even more so, if they offer you a place to stay and you are a guest. No matter how well you get along with someone, if you’re not used to spending day and night with that person, a vacation like that can be a big challenge. Which leads to the next topic…

Travel partners:

So far I’ve travelled with friends who I’ve known since many years even if we usually don’t hang out every day, with people I didn’t know beforehand, people from other countries who I only met when we arrived at our apartment, acquaintances, very close friends and lately alone. I think I covered all possibilities now, except from travelling with my partner. Sorry, I first have to bake my partner before I can do that. ;D

I made good and bad experiences when travelling with different people but every human being is so different that it’s hard to tell which is the best solution. It doesn’t depend only on their character but also on your own.

As for me, even if I had a lot of fun and positive experiences with different travel partners, at this point I decided that travelling alone is the better solution for me. I’m a very introverted person (surprise, surprise!). Socializing and having another person around me for too long gets exhausting for me even if the other persons are nice and fun. So I’d only travel with another person again if I knew beforehand that we won’t be glued together all the time. I’m too fancy-free to adjust all my daily plans to someone else. Even if we’d agree on what to do, from my experience, everything just takes a lot longer when you are two or even more people and I run out of energy a lot faster. If I wouldn’t know anyone in Japan, I’d start to get lonely after a few days. But since I know people who live in Japan, the best solution for me is to travel alone and just meet my friends over there to hang out when we both feel like it. This way I can decide easily how much socializing and how much alone-time I need. J

Seasons:

So far I’ve been in Tokyo from December – January, March – April, July – August and September – October. And guess which season I liked most?… WRONG! :P It’s NOT the spring and cherry blossom season! It’s autumn!

To be honest I was surprised too because I’ve always wanted to see Japan in spring. Because of various reasons, it turned out to be the last season missing on my list, so I went from March to April this year to close this gap. And it was really, really nice! Only the weather was very cold, windy and rainy. I still got to see the cherry blossom and for every Japan lover it’s a must-see. I’m not sure if I just had bad luck with the weather or if it’s just generally so unstable around this time of the year. I still managed to have a lot of fun but obviously it would have been better if I wouldn’t freeze while having a picnic and watching the flowers. (^^)”

When talking about temperatures you must keep in mind that the same number on the thermometer might feel different in different countries. The humidity in Japan is higher than in Germany and thus it always feels warmer to me, even if the temperature is technically the same. As someone who has spent most of my lifetime living in attic flats, I always thought I was able to deal with heat quite well. 40°C are something that can happen in Germany too and apart from feeling more exhausted and lazy, it usually doesn’t affect me in a too negative way. Then I experienced 40°C in Japan and I swear to god I thought I’m gonna die! 8’D If you’re not used to it, better know what the hell you’re signing up for. (^^)” The craziest thing I ever did, was cosplaying and taking part in a parade during such temperatures. Looking back, it was an incredible experience but one time was enough.

As said, autumn was my favorite season. The scenery looks beautiful with leaves becoming more colourful in the parks and there’s still enough left of the summer heat to give you a feeling of being on “summer vacation” but it’s not that deadly anymore. Apart from that, it’s a great chance for me to escape the approaching winter in Germany because usually in Japan it’ll stay warmer for a bit longer so it feels like an extension of summer for me. Another benefit is that autumn is neither a high season like spring nor a holiday season for Japanese natives, which means there might be less tourists and also less people in general at popular places like shrines and temples but also in shops.

Winter in Tokyo was a little less cold than in Germany. You might still have 10°C in December. Temperatures can get lower but usually they weren’t under 0. Keep in mind that temperatures differ a lot depending on your location in Japan and I can only talk about Tokyo, not Hokkaido or Okinawa. Winter was nice especially for visiting theme parks or outdoor museums because obviously they will be rather empty. If you are up for a big firework and party, then I wouldn’t recommend spending New Year in Japan. Instead of big parties, it’s more common to visit a shrine. I haven’t seen a single firework while I was there during New Year. (But didn’t expect one anyway so I wasn’t disappointed.)

Public transport:

Maybe you’ve seen nightmare-ish videos or photos of people pressed and pushed into trains. So let me say one thing first for which you will need some personal background information about me: I’m SO claustrophobic that I switched from using public transport to driving a car despite having a bad trauma after a car accident. Which means my fear of narrow, crowded places and being surrounded by many strangers is really high. And still: I LOVE public transport in Japan! It. Is. SO. Convenient!!!

During the whole 13 months I’ve spent in Japan I hardly ever experienced any train being late. And most trains go every five minutes, so you never have to worry about missing your train.

Especially as a tourist, you don’t have to worry about too crowded trains, because you can easily adjust your travel plans and just not go during the rush hour. If it’s not rush hour then the trains are usually not fuller than in any other big city in Germany. Even during rush hour, to be honest it wasn’t worse than in Frankfurt. Actually it was still better! Because Japanese people are just a lot more polite and will try their best to not cause each other trouble even with so little personal space. Example: The common thing we have in Germany is that you put your bag on the free seat next to you (and thus occupy two seats) just because you don’t want anyone else to sit next to you. Japanese people don’t do that. It’s a tiny habit but I appreciate it so much!!
Yes, I’ve heard stories of gropers and perverts who seem to be a big problem in Japan. Luckily I don’t have personal experience with that. Actually in Japan, I feel safer than anywhere else and was never molested by anyone, neither on the train, nor anywhere else. To be honest, this is one of the things I enjoy the most when being in Japan. I can wear short skirts and I never have to be scared of going out alone at night. I absolutely wouldn’t do that in Frankfurt.

Back to the public transport, which isn’t only punctual but also cheap and super easy to understand, even without Japanese skills. The ticket system is simple, too. I suggest to buy a Suica or Pasmo card. They can be purchased at most stations (from machines) and don’t cost much. You charge these cards with cash and then just use them like a ticket. It’s very convenient and you won’t have to buy a new ticket every time. You can also personalize these cards so when you lose them, you can get them back and you can also use them in other cities.

For getting around, if you want a digital alternative to a basic subway map, I suggest the app “hyperdia”. It’s great for checking the different trains to take from A to B and will also show you some smaller lines which google maps might not know about. I use google maps sometimes too but only for walking distances if I go to check out places where I don’t know the way already.

When travelling over longer distances, I usually take the Shinkansen. (You can compare it to the German ICE, but it’s 1000 % more reliable, faster, cleaner and you have more space.) Shinkansen is quite expensive though but it’s still the best choice for me because usually domestic flights aren’t much cheaper. You can buy Shinkansen tickets on bigger stations and usually it’s not difficult to find out where. (Look for the big JR offices!)

Maybe some of you have heard of the JR pass. It’s an offer especially for foreign travellers. You have to pre-order this pass before you travel to Japan. It cannot be purchased directly in Japan (but you can order it online and send it to a Japanese address or to your hotel if you’re already there). With this pass, you go to one of the JR offices to “activate” it. You can buy it for one week or two… With this magical pass you can take most Shinkansen trains for free. (Not all of them! Always make sure to check the information on the pass!) And you can also take all JR lines for free. So if you plan trips which require Shinkansen travels (for example from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka), then you should check if maybe the JR pass is a cheaper solution for you.

Food:

Now that you booked a flight and know where to stay and how to get around, let’s come to the most important point and one of the reasons why I travel to Japan in the first place: FOOOOOOD! (*~*)

Personally, I don’t like seafood and I’m picky with fish. I don’t like Sushi, Nori, Miso or anything that has the slightest taste of it. You might wonder, why I still love Japanese food but trust me, it’s still worth it!

If you’re vegetarian then you can probably skip this part because sorry, I probably don’t have much advice for you because I eat a lot of meat. I’ve heard that for people who don’t eat any meat, fish and seafood, it can be really problematic in Japan. (As said, I don’t have personal experience with that.) Fact is that the trend of eating vegetarian or vegan food is a lot smaller in Japan than in Germany, where it’s almost common and most restaurants are prepared for it.
Now back to the food. In my first year in Japan I was a bit skeptical about typical Japanese food which I didn’t know. I like to try out everything but if you order something and have to pay it and then don’t like it at all, it’s a waste of money. So this was my conflict. If you’re not used to travelling abroad you should be a bit careful in the beginning, because it can happen that you get stomach problems. I’m not talking about accidentally eating low-quality food but it can easily happen with ALL kind of food, because in different countries they use many different ingredients which our bodies might just not be used to because we never eat them. So if you’re sensitive, just start slowly and don’t worry about putting some Mc Donalds in between. Might sound funny, but seriously, Mc Donalds is the same in every country, so you can’t do much wrong. After experiencing the worst stomach cramps of my life during one of my Japan travels, I became more careful, ha ha! Luckily, by now I can eat almost everything there and usually my stomach won’t complain.

In Japan you can eat very good for a very cheap price. There are also many fast food places which offer Japanese but also international food (like pizza or spaghetti) or booths in the streets for take-away snacks so even if your budget is low, you won’t starve. (^.~) When it comes to low-budget food, you might also often come across the term ‘family restaurant’. These places often have an offer of all-you-can-drink, which you should check out, because it’s usually a lot cheaper than buying multiple drinks.

Japanese style fast food restaurants are often tiny, have many small tables for only 2 people and a counter in the middle. You will often find a machine near the entrance or outside, in front of it. You can check the menu, choose, push the button and pay at the machine. You’ll get a ticket which you give to the waiter. This is really useful because you don’t need to speak Japanese. Sometimes the machines have English translations of the menus too. Even if not: There are always photos!

In some restaurants (not fast food ones) you might be asked to take your shoes off in the entrance area. Just look around and you will notice. Many places like this offer a small locker. It can also be like this in Izakaya and it was also the case in the Touken Ranbu musical café where we went to. So if you go to any theme cafés like this, it can also happen.

There are two small things which I really like about going out to eat in Japan. Firstly, you will always get a wet tissue to clean your hands before eating. In better restaurants it’ll be a warm towel. The second is that you get free water almost everywhere. Sometimes even green tea. I know this is common in other countries too, but in Germany it’s not, so I really appreciate it a lot.

By the way: making everyone pay their own share of the bill is not common in Japan and you don’t give a tip either. To avoid extra work for the waiter, me and my friends usually discuss who pays and the others will give their share to them before/afterwards. If you want to ask for separated bills, note down the word “betsubetsu” which is easy to remember and very useful. (^.~)

I could give you a list of restaurants or my favorite food now but this is already way too long. So if you are looking for anything specific, feel free to ask me. Maybe I can help. There’s also another very useful app called “gurunavi”. You can select what kind of food you’re looking for and which price range and either search in a specific area or use GPS to search nearby.

Shopping:

Interests vary so much and there is are so many shops for everything in Japan, it’s impossible to write down everything. A general piece of advice: Don’t go shopping on Saturday / Sunday! Especially not at places like Harajuku’s Takeshita dori, or Ikebukuro’s otome road. The places will be a lot more crowded than during the week, so better save weekends for sightseeing or other activities. Also note that there is one week in May, called “Golden week” during which most Japanese people don’t work, so keep these dates in mind when planning your vacation.

Now I will talk about my main shopping interests, which are merchandise and fashion.
As an otaku maybe you have heard of the big shop called Animate. During my first vacation in Japan, this shop was like heaven for me. But later I figured out that there are many other otaku heavens which I actually enjoy more. I like shopping in Kbooks a lot. Kbooks has many different stores, specialized on different things. While one might sell a millions of buttons and keychains, another focuses on manga or on voice actors and stage plays. Other shop names that might interest you are Mandarake, Rashinban, BookOff and Toranoana. Most of these shops are both a blessing and a curse. To many of them, private people can go to get rid of the merchandise they don’t want and sell it. Which means: demand determines the price. If your favorite character is the most popular of your fandom, prepare your credit card and some Kleenex to wipe your tears. 8’) There is basically no limit when it comes to the prices for popular characters or limited merchandise which was only available at specific events. The craziest thing I saw this year was one can badge for ¥4000 which is around 32 €. In previous years I’ve also seen can badges for 70 € or tapestries for 100 €. But on the other hand, you can also be lucky, if your favorite characters are less ‘mainstream’ and you can get a lot stuff for ¥300. And the best is that you can always get stuff which is already sold out in other shops, so it’s really worth checking out these places.

Of course the most famous place to be for otakus is Akihabara. (When you arrive at the station, check for the exit “Electric Town”.) Personally I think Akihabara is more interesting for guys because it focuses a lot on the male audience. But it also has tons of Love Live everywhere and if you like to visit arcades then you should definitely check it out.

Nakano Broadway is also quite popular especially if you’re looking for retro stuff. Personally, I didn’t like it so much because it was so full of stuff, it was hard to see the wood for the trees. But I still wanted to mention it here.

Personally, my favorite place to be is Ikebukuro, since it has all the shops I need (as mentioned above). Especially otome road is a place where I usually spend a lot of money. (^^)”

When it comes to fashion of course it depends a lot on the style you’re looking for. When I went shopping in Japan for the first time, I did the mistake of going to all the big shops first and just bought whatever I wanted. Over time, I became a lot more of a bargain hunter. In the narrow and crowded streets of Tokyo there are many small shops which are easily overseen in that ocean of neon signs. Don’t be scared of walking down staircases which look so narrow that you’d expect nothing but a private basement at their end. XD In Japan, you might find the best shops there!

Some notes about sizes: Keep in mind that the average Asian person is smaller than most other nationalities which means the offer of clothes AND shoes might be limited when it comes to big sizes and the sizes are different in general too. As an example: For tops I wear EU size XS-S so luckily I don’t have problems in Japan but for skirts and pants I need M and Japanese M might already be a bit too small for me, so I have to check for L instead. Skirts often don’t exist in L. Thanks to this, I became a master of exchanging elastic waistbands! ;D For shoes it can already get difficult with EU woman size 39. (T_T)

Another useful information might be that trying on clothes in shops is not always allowed. Especially if it’s a piece which you’d have to pull over your head, it’s often forbidden. Sometimes they will have something like a piece of cloth which you are supposed to use to cover your hair and face when pulling on clothes. This is to prevent makeup stains of course. In most shops you will also have to take off your shoes before entering the fitting room. This can get quite annoying because most shops are SO tiny that it’s difficult to even bend down to reach your shows in front of the small cabin. So if you plan a big shopping tour, better wear shoes without laces which are easy to slip off.

Sightseeing:

From temples and shrines up to museums there’s so much to see in Japan! Personally I love outdoor museums, too. I can recommend a visit to Eigamura in Kyoto or Edomura in Nikko. I think I like the second one even more, even if Eigamura is more famous.

There are also many beautiful parks in Japan which offer an amazing view even if it’s not cherry blossom season. Some parks are free like for example the famous Ueno park. Only the zoo there has an entrance fee of course. Others parks like for example Hamarikyu gardens costs a small entrance fee but it’s not much and totally worth it.

I won’t spend too much time talking about all the different places because there are so many websites focusing on that. Just one thing: Museums are often closed on Mondays! So careful with that. Also, don’t expect too much English information at any of these places. Some might have English brochures but definitely not all of them.

Cosplay / Anime / Manga events:

This part is probably only interesting to read for those who have the same hobbies. ;)
I’ve been to Comiket several times, Anime Japan and some smaller cosplay events so far and the rules and ticket systems are always different.

The first important thing is that changing into your cosplay at home / in a hotel and then going to the event dressed like this, is not allowed in Japan. There are changing rooms directly at the event locations. Usually those cost a little fee and you will get a ticket which you have to keep because you’ll need it to get back in and change back at the end of the event.

Depending on the event, these changing rooms might offer you very, very, VERY little space so leave the giant wings and ball gowns at home! ;) Example: At comiket I had approximately 1 m² for myself to sit in, which is not much because within this square you also have to place your suitcase. (^^)” Oh and obviously you won’t get a private room to change. It’s more like a biiiig hall for all the girls to change. I’ve heard that usually the changing rooms for guys are a lot smaller and less crowded. Good to be a male cosplayer in Japan, I guess!

Cosplayer queue at Winter Comiket

Posted by Anshie Shinohara on Thursday, 28 January 2016

 

At some events pre-registering to get one of the limited clock room tickets is necessary. If you don’t cosplay, some events have free entrance, others require a ticket nevertheless. If  tickets can be bought online as well as at the event location, it’s usually cheaper to do so online in advance.

Some sub-events like stage programs or also theme cafés might have an even more painful system to go through: lottery! This means the space is so limited that you have to buy a lottery ticket to have a chance of winning a ticket. This year was super lucky for me because I won a ticket for a stage event with my favorite voice actor and also tickets for several Touken Ranbu cafés.
It might take some help from a Japanese speaker to understand the regulations at event websites and sometimes a Japanese bank account or registering at certain payment platforms (like a Japanese paypal or similar) might be necessary. I admit it can be a bit complicated especially without language skills. If you’re ever interested in going to a specific event, feel free to ask me. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to help but I’ll try my best.

When cosplaying at big events, the part which is most annoying to me (apart from the small changing space) is the long queues. At comiket or Anime Japan, waiting times of 2-3 hours are normal. I guess it’s okay when the weather is fine and you’re prepared for it. But everyone has to decide for themselves if it’s worth it or not.

What was the most interesting to watch for me was the behaviour of cosplayers and photographers at the events. Often there are cosplay areas and taking photos is only allowed in these areas. Taking “shooting photos” like many cosplayers in Germany do is not common at Japanese cosplay events. You have separated shooting events in matching location or photo studios for that. At events it’s usually more of just standing in one pose and be noticed. XD

Maybe you’ve seen photos of comiket, where cosplayers are standing in front of a big building and photographers are lining up in front of them. I had the same happening to me and I was surprised that they all line up, wait until the photographer in front of them is finished and asks for your permission when it’s their turn. So after every photo, even if you’re already posing and it’s obvious that you’re fine with your photo being taken, you can nod to their “May I?” Well, Japanese people are polite! It made me wonder if they all ask for permission before rolling around on the floor to take panty shots too… Yes that happens, too! Well, I’ve seen it on photos but didn’t experience it while I was there. (^^)”

Another interesting thing is that it’s common for cosplayers to bring a sign (a piece of paper or cardboard) with their social media contact data and place it next to them. I think this is a brilliant idea because with this, every person interested in you will have your nickname and data directly on the photo and will easily find you. These signs are often put on a suitcase too, because locker rooms and luggage store rooms at events are often too full anyway. So when you’re forced to roll your suitcase around with you, why not make use of it? (^,~)

Moving on to the shopping part at events. I love buying doujinshi! At events, the artists might also offer cute self-made merchandise or presents added to the doujinshi. It’s also a great chance to meet your favorite artists and mangaka in person. Last time I made a list of all artists I want to meet and brought omiyage (presents) for all of them. I managed to meet around 10 of 14 artists in person, so I was really happy! (*-*) Again, if it’s a big event and a famous mangaka, you have to expect long queues of people waiting to meet them.

Cosplay studios / shooting events:

As mentioned above events are often separated between “just being seen and do some shopping” and “going there with the sole purpose of taking (professional) photos”.

In Japan, it’s not allowed to simply dress up in cosplay and go to any nearby temple to have a photo shooting. But they organize countless events to give cosplayers the opportunity to have outdoor shootings at awesome places which are usually unreachable. For example this year I was lucky that while I was in Japan, there was an event in Edomura. It was one of the best experiences ever! Again, it depends a lot on the event how much it will cost and if pre-registration is necessary.

Apart from these events, there are also tons of cosplay studios which I’m honestly really jealous of! Depending on their size and offer, some might be cheaper than others. Maybe you have heard of Hacostadium or Booty.

You can literally rent EVERYTHING in these studios! It’s amazing. Not only the sets but also a lot of accessories (instruments, school bags, weapons, plastic food, sports equipments…), basic cosplay equipment (hair pins, fake lashes, lenses, wigs, brushes, fake nails…) cameras and equipment and even a photographer if you don’t have one! Again, all of these offers depend on the size of the studio.

Usually when you go to a studio for the first time, you’ll have to fill out some information and get a (free) member’s card. You can rent for half a day or full day and you don’t rent a single set but will be allowed to use all sets. Of course you won’t be the only cosplayer there, so occupying one set for many hours would be impolite if there are others who would like to use the same set. But usually whenever I’ve been there, they were all not so busy and we always had enough time in the sets we needed.

In some studios, it’s not allowed to walk from set to set in shoes. You have to take them off and wear the provided slippers, then put them on again at the next set. (Even if there are only a few steps between some sets. ;D) Some also have tape which is used to cover the sole of the shoes.

Visiting at weekends might cost more than during the week. For bigger studios it might again be useful to check online. Some have lists to show if there are still free spots. If it’s a busy day and you didn’t pre-order, they might not let you in. But as said, this never happened to me.

Internet access:

This is also important nowadays. I recommended some apps before, but to use them, of course you will need internet. Hotels usually offer free wi-fi but what’s the best solution while walking around? Well, first of all many public place like stations offer free wi-fi too but depending on the phone they might be a bit unstable and they need registration to access.

There are two other solutions: Sim cards or portable wi-fi devices. I don’t have experience with Sim cards because I heard that some phone types won’t work with them even if they technically should. So I never tried that out. In my opinion portable wi-fi devices are better. If you decide to rent an apartment, ask your landlord if they offer one. Sometimes it’s even included in the price, sometimes they will ask for additional fees but it might still be cheaper than renting it somewhere else. Comparing different offers is worth it! There are also many websites in English offering these devices. Usually you order them online and then get the device from a pick-up booth at the airport. There are also pick-up booths at bigger train stations or delivery services to an address in Japan, including hotels. The websites usually have lists and explain all possibilities easily. The devices come with an already prepared envelope to put it back in at the end of your travel. Just throw it into any mail box and that’s it! Really convenient!  (^^)

This time though, I didn’t get any wi-fi device (like all previous times) and I was still doing fine. Internet in the hotel was enough for me most of the time. But if you go there for the first time, it might be helpful for maps or also online dictionaries and stuff like that.

Health:

I mentioned the sensitive stomach problem before but apart from that, sadly I have A LOT of experience with getting ill in Japan. 8’) From sleepless nights because of my annoying back pain and too hard mattresses, over swollen feet to the traditional cold, fever and tonsillitis.

So there are a few things I’d like to mention. Firstly, a futon is not a thick, fluffy, soft mattress. 8’) And even if the hotel calls something a ‘mattress’, we spoilt gaijin might still call it a coil spring board. (^^)” If you’re picky, please be prepared! In the worst case, you can do it like me and just buy a huge, comfy pillow.

Secondly, if you plan to go in summer, don’t underestimate the heat and drink a lot! If you walk around a lot, you might also face the same problem I had: Because of the heat and walking a lot, my feet became so swollen that none of my shoes fitted anymore. And I couldn’t find any bigger shoes there. So don’t underestimate this either and bring comfortable shoes which are not too tight.

As I’m a master of catching a cold and other fancy stuff in Japan, I probably know Japanese drug stores and meds as well as you can without being able to read most of the kanji. (^^)” Japanese drug stores are amazing! You can get a lot of things here which would require a doctor’s signature in Germany. But in the end it’s up to you if you decide to try and survive with meds from the drug store or if you want to go to a doctor.

In Japan it seems to be common to just go to a hospital even with just a cold. (x,x) Or at least so I was told. Also the chances to find an English speaking doctor are higher in a hospital. Which was the case when I went there. It was still an adventure because the nurses and reception ladies obviously didn’t speak a single word of English. Well, it worked more or less with some pieces of horrible Japanese which were enough to describe my problem. After talking to the doctor, I got a prescription to pick up my meds at something like a drug store but smaller. I think it was more like a “meds pick-up counter” because it was a tiny room with just a counter in it, right next to the hospital. I had to give the prescription to the lady at the counter and got my meds together with another detailed information about how to take them – in Japanese of course! (^,~) My medication was quite interesting. (Ô_O) I got 1 pill against my cold, swollen throat, cough and fever, a 2nd pill against the possible side effect from the first pill so that I won’t throw up and a 3rd pill for uhm… another possible side effect which I forgot. So I took 3 pills, 3 times a day, which makes 9 pills. Adding 3 pills which I have to take daily because of my chronic illness, that made 12 pills a day!! (O_O) I’m… not sure if this is healthy. I felt like some junkie! (>~<)

In any case, you should make sure to have an health insurance which covers overseas doctor visits. In my case I had to pay the doctor visit costs and meds on my own, keep all the documents and bills they give you, send it to the insurance company in Germany and wait to get the money back. My insurance company confirmed and refunded the full costs within a few weeks.

Money:

I often get the question “How much money should I bring to Japan?” but this is so difficult to answer because everyone has different demands. Some spend more and others spend less.

I usually exchange 1000 € into Yen before I get on the plane. Checking out different currency exchange offices can be useful because they all offer slightly different rates. I use this money mostly for stuff which I cannot pay via credit card in Japan. Like small stuff, entrance fees and such.

I pay bigger expenses with credit card because it’s usually cheaper than exchanging all my money and paying in cash. I advise you to get a credit card before travelling to Japan, because you can’t pay with a other cash cards and you also can’t withdraw money at all machines with those. All in all I’m doing fine with 1000-2000 € for 3-4 weeks. This includes all the money I spend there on: food, public transport, tickets for a few events, sometimes a 1-week JR pass, merchandise and clothes. Flight and hotel not included. But as I said, I’ve heard other people say that they need a lot more or also less. It depends a lot on the person.

~

So now this became a lot longer than expected. I’m not sure if anyone will read the whole thing. XD But no matter if you read it all or just some parts that sounded interesting to you, I hope I could share some useful experiences. I’m not all-knowing but if you ever have questions about travelling to Japan, let me know, because I just love talking about this beautiful country where I lost at least a big part of my heart.

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